The MGM logo: a hand-drawn cartoon of Mahler at the podium, glaring at the audience

Main heading: The Music of Gustav Mahler: A Catalogue of Manuscript and Printed Sources [rule] Paul Banks





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For the first discussion of this anecdote, see PBGME, 200–2.



The names of prize-winners were published in the annual Bericht über das Conservatorium und die Schauspielschule der Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Wien.



Composed 18–24 March 1876 as op. 9 no. 4: published in HWSW VII/3.



See LNHR, nos. 12, 15, 17, 24–6, 29 (not identified as a Zusner setting).



[Setting of a text by Vincenz Zusner]








  ?Voice and Piano








Printed Editions






Our knowledge of this work stems from a reminiscence of Ludwig Karpath which dates from shortly after Mahler had arrived in Vienna, in April 1897, to take up his new appointment as Kapellmeister at the Court Opera (LKBG, 62):¹

Mahler hat ein erstaunliches Gedächtnis. Als ich einmal, in jenen ersten Wochen mit ihm im Café Kremser saß, kam ein Herr auf ihn zu und begrüsste ihn mit den Worten: „Kennen Sie mich noch, mein Name ist Ludwig”. „Oh, ich weiss sehr gut, wer Sie sind,” erwiderte Mahler, „wir waren doch beide am Konservatorium, wir nahmen auch beide an einer Liedkonkurrenz teil, ich ging leer aus, Sie aber erhielten den ersten Preis mit einem Lied, das so anfing.” Und nun pfiff Mahler die fünf oder sechs Anfangstakte jenes Liedes, worüber Ludwig, der als Klavierlehrer am Konservatorium wirkte, so bestürzt war, daß er mit einem kurzem Gruss von dannen ging.

Mahler had an astonishing memory. While I was sitting one day during those first weeks with him at the Café Kremser, a man came up to him and greeted him with the words: 'Do you remember me, my name is Ludwig?' "Oh, I know very well who you are,' replied Mahler. 'We were both at the Conservatoire, we also both took part in a song competition, from which I went away empty handed, but you received first prize for a song which began.' And then Mahler whistled five or six of the opening bars of the song, at which Ludwig, who worked as a piano teacher at the Conservatoire, was so disconcerted that, with a short farewell, he left.

Ernst Ludwig and Mahler had been fellow pupils in Franz Krenn's composition class at the Vienna Conservatoire between 1876–78, and both graduated in the latter year. Ludwig was appointed to the teaching staff in 1883 (GKKGM, 325) and remained there after the institution was re-organised as the Academy of Music and Drama in 1909 (MBaO (1910), 125).

The competition to which Karpath refers was not one of the official Conservatoire prizes, but was set up through the generosity of a private individual. The benefactor was a little-known Austrian lyric poet, Vinzenz Zusner who was born in Bischoflacik near Laibach on 18 January 1803 and who died at Graz on 12 June 1874. In his will he left a sum of 6200 Gulden to the Conservatoire in Vienna, the annual interest of which was to be awarded annually in the form of prizes of 20 and 10 ducats, for the two best settings of his poems by students at the Conservatoire (GKKGM, 136–7).

Zusner's poetry appeared in four collections: Gedichte (1842) , Neue Gedichte (1853), Im Walde (Naturbilder) (1863) and Gedichte (Gesamtausgabe) (1871). It is of little merit, being a pale imitation of Heine, and according to Robert Hirschfeld the prize caused something of a problem (GKKGM, 137):²

Die gutgemeinte Stiftung hatte, weil auf nur geringe Zahl zur Vertonung geeigneten Lieder Vinzenz Zusners beschränkt, einen problematischen Wert.

Because it was restricted to the few songs which were suitable for musical setting, the well-intentioned bequest had a problematical value.

Apart from Mahler himself, three members of his circle of friends set texts by Zusner, though only Rudolf Krzyzanowski was successful in the competition, winning first prize in 1877/8 for a setting of Zusner's Das Abendglöcklein:

Des Glöckleins Schall durchtönt das Tal,

Mir Ruhe zu verkünden,

Nur ich allein mit meiner Pein

Vermag sie nicht zu finden.


Wann läutest du denn mir zur Ruh'

Von deinem Kirchlein droben?

Sei ruhig, Herz! Ein jeder Schmerz

Hört einmal auf zu toben.


Einst wird dich schon des Glöckleins Ton

Mit deiner Qual versöhnen.

Und schweigt der Klang auch noch so lang,

Er muß doch endlich tönen!

The valley resounds to the bells ringing

Announcing rest to me,

But I alone with my pain

Am unable to find it.


When then will you ring me to peace

From your chapel up there?

Be calm my heart! Every single pain

Ceases finally to rage.


One day to the bells note

Will be reconciled with your agony.

And also if the sound is silenced so long

It must finally resound.

The same text also attracted Hugo Wolf and Hans Rott, though in Wolf's case it was his only attempt at a Zusner song,³ suggesting that despite the financial inducement, the poetry failed to evoke a response. Rott – perhaps less sensitive than Wolf to the poetic quality of the texts he set, or in more desperate financial straights –  composed at least seven settings, implying that he made a determined (but unsuccessful) effort to win the prize.

Ludwig won the competition in 1875/6 – the first year it was held – with another version of Das Abendglöcklein, and again in 1876/7, so Mahler's Zusner setting presumably dates from sometime during these three years. Interestingly, in 1878 Ludwig received only second prize, and it was Rudolf Krzyzanowski who won:

Facsimile of a press report of the result of the 1878 Zusner Competition.

Fig 1. Result of the 1878 Zusner Song Competition

Wiener Zeitung 18 June 1878, 7

In the 1890s two musicians later to establish themselves as composers carried off the Zusner prize: Zemlinsky (1891) and Franz Schreker (1899) (CHFS, 15).

Select Bibliography

  LKBG, 62; PBGME, 2002; HLG1a, 111
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